I. READ IT: Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families (The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, Research Action Design, and partners) Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families proves that the costs of locking up millions … Continue reading
Written by Sean Larner Evan Ebel was worried about leaving prison — and reasonably so. His last couple years were spent by himself in a cinderblock cell the size of two queen mattresses. Before his release Ebel wondered, in a … Continue reading
Hello Friends. We’re back with our weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
PS. Don’t forget this week only (July 11th-July 18th), Root & Rebound is running its first-ever online auction to raise money for our work across California, drawing thousands of people from across the country and world to bid on incredible prizes—everything from hotel stays to wine country hot air balloon rides, from photographs and paintings to consultations with wedding and home designers.
Visit the site and bid today!
I. READ IT: Obama to become first sitting president to visit a prison (LA Times)
President Obama will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, part of a push he plans next week for reforming the criminal justice system.
On Thursday, the president will visit with inmates and officials at the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno near Oklahoma City, the White House announced Friday, and will be interviewed for the HBO newsmagazine series “Vice” on the issue.
II. HEAR IT: LA Police Unit Intervenes To Get Mentally Ill Treatment, Not Jail Time (NPR)
“The goal is to make sure that people who are mentally ill, who are not a danger to the community, are moved towards getting treatment and services as opposed to getting booked and taken into the jail.”
III. READ IT: Prison Born (The Atlantic)
“The officer who handcuffed Mayer in the motel didn’t seem to care when she told him she was pregnant. Neither did the parole judge, who charged her with fraternizing with another parolee and skipping curfew and ordered her back to prison. As she stripped down at the intake facility and stepped forward to be searched, she faced the question that thousands of American women do each year: What happens to a baby born in detention?”
IV. HEAR IT: Georgia Leads A Push To Help Ex-Prisoners Get Jobs (NPR)
“In Georgia, Jay Neal thinks it won’t be hard to persuade more businesses to take some risk, because here, one in 13 adults is under some kind of state supervision. ‘Just about everybody knows somebody who’s been in the prison system and knows enough about them to know that they’re not a real threat — that they need help more than they need to be locked away,’ he says. And that they’re no longer ex-offenders, but returning citizens.”
V. WATCH IT: Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls (International Business Times)
Over the last decade, the prison phone business has become a scandalous industry, characterized by lawsuits, exorbitant fees, high phone rates and monopolistic relationships between public jails and private companies that openly offer kickbacks to local sheriffs. In May 2015, Foster Campbell, the Louisana Public Service commissioner, described the prison phone business in his state as “worse than any payday loan scheme.”
“Regardless of what they’re using the money for, this is about shifting the cost of the police state onto the backs of the poor people being policed,” says Paul Wright, executive director of Human Rights Defense Center and a longtime advocate for more affordable prison phone rates.
VI. READ IT: Reading Aloud to My Daughter, From Prison (New York Times)
“After my daughter received her books, I learned that the books I sent to her went beyond her in many ways. My entire family was touched and helped through these books. When my son missed me he too would listen to my voice on the tape. When my mom and dad had a rough day taking care of my many responsibilities, they found forgiveness and hope in the sound of my voice.”
Hello friends. Happy Mother’s Day! We’re back with our weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
1.) How Baltimore and cities like it hold back poor black children as they grow up (Washington Post)
“Every year a poor boy spends growing up in Baltimore, this research found, his earnings as an adult fall by 1.5 percent. Add up an entire childhood, and that means a 26-year-old man in Baltimore earns about 28 percent less than he would if he had grown up somewhere in average America. And that’s a whole lot less than the very same child would earn if he had grown up, 50 miles away, in Fairfax County.
That one result — among data Chetty and Hendren have calculated for every county in America — marks a remarkable convergence this week of slow-going social science and current events. If young men in Baltimore who have been protesting for the last two weeks are lashing out at a long legacy of inherited disadvantage, they are also reacting to a reality today that empirical data now confirms: Baltimore is a terrible place to grow up as a poor black boy.”
2.) Chicago to Pay $5.5 Million in Reparations for Police Torture Victims (Rolling Stone)
“We’re the first municipality in the history of the country to make reparations for racialized police torture and violence, and I hope that other jurisdictions and other municipalities follow suit,” Mariame Kaba, founding director of Project NIA, an organization that helped push through the reparations, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s one thing to sue civilly for money and damages. It’s another thing to insist that people receive care for the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s another thing to insist that people get education and their kids benefit and grandkids benefit. It’s another thing to really focus on the importance of memorializing the harm done, the atrocities visited upon real people.”
3.) The Painful Price of Aging in Prison (Washington Post)
Also see: Older Prisoners, Higher Costs (The Marshall Project)
“Harsh sentencing policies, including mandatory minimums, continue to have lasting consequences for inmates and the nation’s prison system. Today, prisoners 50 and older represent the fastest-growing population in crowded federal correctional facilities, their ranks having swelled by 25 percent to nearly 31,000 from 2009 to 2013.”
“The description of the Arab Spring could just as easily apply to the mobilizations in the United States, in Ferguson, in New York and now in Baltimore. The similarities between these movements have not escaped the notice of many activists in the United States, as they see the connections between the conditions they confront in poor Black neighborhoods, the eruption of protests in American cities, and the resistance efforts of peoples in the Arab World. For these activists, the protest movements in places like Baltimore signal the rise of a “Black Spring,” a kindred movement spurred by many of the same structural symptoms and subhuman conditions that ignited the popular protests in the Arab World.
5.) Inquiry to Examine Racial Bias in the San Francisco Police (New York Times)
Time to investigate…
“Blacks make up about 5% of the city’s population, but account for half of its inmates and more than 60% of the children in juvenile detention.”
‘Clinton signed into law an omnibus crime bill in 1994 that included the federal “three strikes” provision, mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes. On Wednesday, Clinton acknowledged that policy’s role in over-incarceration in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.”
For Mother’s Day
+1) What It’s Like to Visit Your Mom in Prison on Mother’s Day (Mother Jones)
+1) The New Mothers in Bedford Hills (The Marshall Project)
Audio of the week) #BlackLivesMatter: Alicia Garza on the Origins of a Movement (RadioProject.org)
“Black Lives Matter. This simple phrase has become the motto of a growing movement calling for true justice and equalty for black people. Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, first typed out those three words back in 2013. In March of 2015, Alicia Garza visited the University of Southern Maine to tell the story of how Black Lives Matter came to be, and express her hopes for where it’s headed. We hear her speech.”
Report of the week) TURNING ON THE TAP: How Returning Access to Tuition Assistance for Incarcerated People Improves the Health of New Yorkers (forthcoming May 12th)
Quote of the week) “Mass incarceration is ahistorical, criminogenic, inefficient, and racist,” Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center from The Milwaukee Experiment (The New Yorker)
Image of the week)
Hi friends. Again it is Friday, so again it is time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome any and all thoughts or feedback, so don’t be shy!
From the AP: “John Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration. The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday…”We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country,” Legend said in an interview. “It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration…I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.”
Thus far, Hilary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), Marco Rubio (R), and Rand Paul (R) have announced their candidacies for President of the United States. Radley Balko, author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” has strung together a “quick and dirty list of [criminal justice related] questions” that he’d like to see 2016 Presidential candidates answer.
3.) Federal Prosecutor Tries a Radical Tactic in the Drug War: Not Throwing People in Prison (Huffington Post)
“[South Carolina’s top] U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration…If the program’s success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country…Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea. While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project. The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.”
4.) Driver’s License Suspension Create Cycle of Debt (New York Times)
“The last time Kenneth Seay lost his job, at an industrial bakery that offered health insurance and Christmas bonuses, it was because he had been thrown in jail for legal issues stemming from a revoked driver’s license. Same with the three jobs before that. In fact, Mr. Seay said, when it comes to gainful employment, it is not his criminal record that is holding him back — he did time for dealing drugs — but the $4,509.22 in fines, court costs and reinstatement fees he must pay to recover his license. Mr. Seay’s inability to pay those costs has trapped him in a cycle that thousands of other low-income Tennesseans are struggling to escape. Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay. As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. In Tennessee, almost 90,000 driver’s licenses have been suspended since its law was enacted in 2011…Many defendants are forced to choose between paying court debt or essentials like utility bills and child support. Mr. Seay said his tax refund this year went toward child support debt accumulated during his time in prison and periods of unemployment. For even low-level offenders, debt can make a valid license unattainable…In Tennessee, judges have the discretion to waive court fees and fines for indigent defendants, but they do not have to, and some routinely refuse. Judges also have wide discretion over how much time to allow defendants to pay traffic tickets before suspending a license.”
From The Atlantic’s City Lab: “Last Saturday, a Dominican immigrant named Feidin Santana used his phone to record video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager firing his gun eight times and killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away. Slager has been charged with murder. Santana, who is being celebrated as a hero, has since said that he was terrified and thought about erasing the video. He had reason to be afraid. What if police had assaulted or arrested Santana, or destroyed his phone?…[T]he truth is that courts have not uniformly recognized that a right to record police actually exists. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed its support for the right to record, only four federal appeals courts have ruled that such a right exists; others have either not ruled at all or narrowly ruled that no right had been “clearly established.” Until a right to record police is in fact clearly established, some officers will continue to act against bystanders who record them with impunity.” (Related: California Senate seeks to clarify right to video police conduct)
6.) D.C. Council rejects Corizon Health contract after lobbying battle (Washington Post)
Last month, R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor blogged about the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare. Dominik specifically mentioned Corizon Health’s failings in Alabama and in Alameda County, California. Our last Pick this week is an update on Corizon Health and the movement to improve healthcare for incarcerated people. From the Washington Post: “The D.C. Council on Tuesday rejected a controversial health-care contract proposed for the city’s jail after weeks of fierce arguments and heavy lobbying by supporters and opponents. The council’s 6-to-5 vote against a $66 million proposal by Corizon Health marked a high-profile defeat for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who had supported the contract….Contract opponents cast the decision as a victory for inmate care and a rejection of a company mired in legal troubles in other states, including several high-profile wrongful-death lawsuits. David Grosso (I) said that if getting the best possible care for the city’s inmates is the objective, then “contracting with a for-profit, scandal-prone company is not the way for us to get there.”
Report of the week) Stop and Frisk in Chicago (ACLU of Illinois)
From the executive summary of our report of the week: “Chicago has failed to train, supervise and monitor law enforcement in minority communities for decades, resulting in a failure to ensure that officers’ use of stop and frisk is lawful. This report contains troubling signs that the Chicago Police Department has a current practice of unlawfully using stop and frisk: Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop. Stop and frisk is disproportionately concentrated in the black community. Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. And, even in majority white police districts, minorities were stopped disproportionately to the number of minority people living in those districts. Chicago stops a shocking number of people. Last summer, there were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice. In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers’ stops…This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them.”
Extra of the week) Letter from Birmingham Jail (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
52 years ago this week (4/16/1963) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.The letter defends his strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. King declares that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws, and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. King famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Related: What if MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Had Been a Facebook Post?)
Hello friends. Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
1.) The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’ (The Guardian)
In an exclusive, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian describes the horrific treatment of detainees at a secretive, off-the-books interrogation”black site” known as Homan Square. Homan Square is a “nondescript warehouse,” but it isn’t located at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib . . . it’s located on the west side of Chicago and is operated by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Among the alleged atrocities committed by CPD are: keeping arrestees out of official booking databases, shackling and beating arrestees for extended periods of time, denying attorneys access to the “secure facility,” and holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
2.) Free state ID cards proposed for newly released prisoners (Seattle Times)
Not having proper identification can be a major hurdle for newly released prisoners. Identification is required to get housing, to get a job, to cash a check, and even to get a library card. In Washington, getting a new driver’s license or state identification card usually costs between $45-$54 (not to mention, the time and cost of transportation required to get to a Department of Licensing office). Unfortunately, many Washington prisoners are only released with as little as $40. But a new bill, proposed by state legislator, Cyrus Habib, would issue free temporary identification to all reentering individuals as they are released from jail or prison.
3.) Want to visit an inmate? Increasingly, you’ll have to log on (San Fransisco Chronicle)
Hamed Aleaziz reports that several California counties, notably; Napa, Solano, and San Mateo are moving away from allowing prisoners to have in-person visits, and are instead replacing them with Skype-like digital video-chats. Supporters argue that using video-chat technology saves money and strengthens security. Supporters are quick to note that families can now video-chat with their incarcerated loved ones from home, without having to make a trip to jail. But as Bernadette Rabuy of the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative notes, “Inmates and their families find video visits to be more impersonal.They talk about being able to hold their hand on the piece of glass and the other incarcerated person holding their hand up. Moments like that feel impossible with video visits.” A 2011 Minnesota Department of Corrections study concluded in-person prison visits “establish a continuum of social support,” and that visited inmates were 13% less likely to be convicted of a new felony after release. According to Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor of criminology at UC Irvine, “The data is pretty good. The more in-person visits prisoners have, the better off they are likely to be when they get out.” Also problematic is the fact that the video-chats are expensive. The companies providing video-chat technologies for prisons and jails charge families up to $20 for as little as 20 minutes of talk time. These companies then split profits with the county (Napa receives 20% of fees obtained from video chats to its inmates).
4.) Santa Clara County increases oversight of cases of youths being charged as adults (Santa Cruz Sentinel)
California prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding whether to charge juvenile suspects as juveniles or as adults. A 2013 internal review by Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. In response to this finding, Santa Clara’s DA has teamed up with Santa Clara’s Public Defender’s office and several Bay Area youth advocacy groups to examine these cases more stringently. Specifically, the DA has asked youth advocates who favor rehabilitation over prison to review and critique the DA’s decision to charge juveniles as adults. The committee of advocates is currently reviewing every 2014 Santa Clara case where a juvenile was charged as an adult.
Last Saturday (2/21) marked the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. In a recent exit interview, Politico asked outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder what book he would recommend to a young person coming to Washington, D.C. Holder’s answer–“The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”Holder also stated that before leaves office, he will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes (see # 6, below). “I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something I am going to be talking about before I leave office.” Holder’s remarks come days after the Department of Justice announced that it has closed its investigation in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin. DOJ will not be filing federal hate-crime charges against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
6.) Why Is It So Hard to Prove a Civil Rights Crime? (The New Republic)
Cristian Farias discusses the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not file federal hate-crime charges against George Zimmerman and the limits of federal hate crimes laws. Farias writes, “Willfulness, in civil rights cases or otherwise, is by far the most difficult thing to prove in criminal law. And absent a damning confession from Zimmerman or a mountain of circumstantial evidence showing that he harbors resentment toward black teenagers, making that showing is hard—so hard, DOJ determined, it couldn’t risk pressing charges and losing later.”
Bonus: Tomorrow, 2/28, marks the end of Black History Month. If you have some spare time this weekend, cozy up with your loved ones and take 2 hours to watch “Freedom Riders,” the beautifully directed, 2010 documentary by Stanley Nelson Jr. “Freedom Riders” is the powerful, harrowing, and inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Jim Crow South. The Freedom Riders challenged the status quo by riding interstate buses and trains in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced illegal segregation in seating. They called national attention to the blatant disregard for federal laws and the local mob violence used to enforce segregation in the South. You can watch Freedom Riders for free online courtesy of PBS. Here’s a link to the film.
Hello friends. It’s Friday, so you know what that means…it’s time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We always welcome thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
1.) Holder backs death penalty moratorium (Politico)
As John Gerstein reports, Attorney General Eric Holder is endorsing a halt to all executions nationwide while the Supreme Court considers whether some lethal injection methods are unconstitutional. Speaking in a personal capacity on Tuesday, AG Holder stated, “I think fundamental questions about the death penalty need to be asked. And among them, the Supreme Court’s determination as to whether or not lethal injection is consistent with our Constitution is one that ought to occur. From my perspective, I think a moratorium until the Supreme Court made that determination would be appropriate.”
2.) A look at 20 years of shootings by cops (San Diego Union-Tribune)
San Diego County, California’s District Attorney’s Office recently released a report detailing and analyzing police officer-involved shootings that occurred between 1993 and 2012 in San Diego, California’s second most populous county. Over half of the shootings taking place during this 20 year span resulted in death. Nearly half of the shootings happened immediately upon the officer arriving on scene. As Pauline Repard reports,19% of people shot by officers were black, a significantly higher percentage than the County’s overall black population, which is just 4.8%. Of the 367 people shot, 81% had mental heath issues or had drugs in their system. 56% of people shot were were 18-32-years old. From 1993 to 2012, San Diego prosecutors only filed charges against two officers, once in 2005 and once in 2009. Juries found both officers not guilty.
3.) How communities are keeping kids out of crime (Christian Science Monitor)
In this feature, Stacy Teicher Khadaroo takes a look at how Lucas County, Ohio and other state and local governments are at the forefront of a movement to stop incarcerating so many youths. As Khadaroo writes, “Driven by the high cost of incarceration and a growing understanding of adolescent behaviors, states and localities are launching initiatives to provide counseling, drug treatment, and other support for young offenders rather than locking them up. The idea is to save money – and try to keep them from committing more crimes by addressing their problems at the roots.”
4.) Making Overseers into Advocates: A social worker’s take on the misery of probation (The Marshall Project)
In a commentary, Philadelphia social worker, Jeff Deeney, describes life working inside of Philadelphia’s probation office. Deeney describes the probation office as a “gloomy, misery-inducing dump absolutely nobody enjoys coming to, POs or probationers.” Deeney further writes that, “Probationers continually complain about what they feel are probation officers who are abusive, disrespectful, racist or petty power trippers out to wreck your life just to show you they can. Conversely, POs feel underpaid, underappreciated and under constant assault by criminals who would just as soon stab them in the back if they thought they could get away with it . . . Authority and the anti-authoritarian become locked in a bitter embrace that, based on what I’ve seen over the years, is mutually destructive.” Deeney’s takeaway message is that probation offices must be changed from “places of control and enforcement to places of support and encouragement . . . Not just because the studies all show social support reduces recidivism, but because we believe in treating people with dignity and respect.”
5.) Prison banker eliminates fees for money order deposits in Kansas (Center for Public Integrity)
JPay Inc., the biggest provider of money transfers to prisoners, has stopped charging fees to families sending money orders to inmates in Kansas. The change that means inmates’ families can now send money for free in every state where JPay operates (other than holdout Kentucky). JPay is credited with popularizing electronic payments to prisons, while also creating a multi-billion dollar industry (here’s more info. on the prison-industrial complex). Prior to the advent of JPay and similar companies, inmates’ families typically mailed money orders directly to the facility where their relative was locked up.
Malcolm X was assassinated 50 years ago tomorrow (February 21st). Prominent historian, author, and Tufts University Professor, Peniel Joseph takes a look at why, even 50 years after his death, Malcolm X remains one of the most important intellectuals, organizers and revolutionaries that America has ever produced. Professor Joseph writes, “Fifty years after his death, the struggle for black liberation continues with nationwide protests that recall the tumultuous 1960s, when Malcolm’s message of uncompromising struggle frightened white and black political leaders alike. Today’s rising activists, who boldly demand an end to racial and economic injustice beyond token political reforms, are channeling the best part of Malcolm’s legacy—one that, even in the face of death, cries out for justice by any means necessary.”
Bonus: If you have a moment to spare, take some time out of your weekend and listen to one of Malcolm X’s most famous and powerful speeches, “The Ballot or the Bullet,” given on April 3, 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio. A transcript of the speech is available here. And audio of the speech is available here. #BlackLivesMatter
Have a good weekend everyone, and we will see you soon.
Hello friends. We’re back with the second edition of our new weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
1.) History of Lynchings in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names (New York Times)
In this article, Campell Robertson discusses some findings from a newly published report by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative entitled: Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. EJI’s report documents lynching in twelve Southern states from the time of Reconstruction to the end of World War II. The report makes the case that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism and a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation.
2.) Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System (Hands Up United)
Timothy Lynch of the Cato Institute has said, “The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used.” In this commentary, Michelle Alexander, famed author of, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, argues that one way to end mass incarceration is by “crashing the system.” Alexander writes, “If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation….Such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the agenda for politicians and policy makers, leaving them only two viable options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases filed…or amend the Constitution…Either action would create a crisis and the system would crash.”
Since 2006, there have been at least 110 instances where school police officers (called School Resource Officers or SROs) have pepper-sprayed school students in Birmingham, Alabama. A lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center has brought up the issue of whether such practices are constitutional. Of the policy allowing officers to pepper-spray students, Ebony Howard of the SPLC says, “We want it to be declared unconstitutional because it allows officers to spray people, specifically students, without considering a wide variety of factors—such as whether they are in a school environment, the fact that they are in a closed environment, and the fact that these things that they are accusing kids of doing and acting on are actually just student misconduct issues.” Allie Gross of Mother Jones describes the pepper-spraying of Birmingham students as well as the rise of police presence in schools since the mid-1990s.
Related: be sure to check out R&R’s previous blog entry, “Why the Teacher’s Protection Act is Deadly to Students,” for another example of how, since the 1990s, public school systems have become increasingly militant.
4.) Alameda County: $8.3 million jail death settlement mandates jail health care reforms (Contra Costa Times)
Malaika Fraley of the Contra Costa Times reports that a record-breaking settlement has been reached in the case of an Oakland, California man, Martin Harrison, who died after being beaten to death and tased by Santa Rita Jail deputies. Alameda County’s Board of Supervisors and its jail medical services provider, Corizon Health, have agreed to pay $8.3 to the family of Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison died in August of 2010 while incarcerated at Santa Rita, just two days after he was beaten and tased by 10 deputies.
5.) Missouri cities, including Ferguson, sued over ‘grotesque’ jail conditions (Los Angeles Times)
Matt Pierce of the LA Times writes about two recently-filed lawsuits against the cities of Ferguson and Jennings, Missouri. Pierce writes that the lawsuits accuse the cities of “maintaining ‘grotesque’ jail conditions for motorists locked up because they couldn’t pay fines for minor legal infractions . . . crowded cells are smeared with mucus, blood and fecal matter and inmates are denied basic hygiene supplies and medical care.” Ferguson is the city where unarmed African American teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot in August 2014.
6.) Gov. Pat McCrory says brothers’ pardon still being reviewed (News and Observer)
Our sixth pick this week is actually an update of a story we told you about last week. Henry McCollum and Leon Brown were recently exonerated or murder after serving three decades in a North Carolina prison following a wrongful conviction. The two brothers were exonerated by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. But following their exoneration, McCollum and Brown are left without any ability to collect compensation for the time they spend incarcerated absent a pardon from the state’s governor. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s office is currently “conducting a formal an thorough process that will lead to a recommendation” of whether or not McCollum and Brown should receive a pardon. If the men receive a pardon, they will be eligible to receive $50,000 for every year they spent incarcerated (up to a max of $750,000). McCollum and Brown spent their entire adult lives in prison and have IQ scores in the 50s and 60s. The two men struggle with reading and writing. We will keep you updated on this story.
— The R&R Team
This blog was written by R&R’s Spring Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor. He will be writing more articles about issues of criminal justice over the next few months. In May 2015, Dominik will be leaving us to begin a two-year Fellowship with the incredible Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.
In Texas, teachers are permitted to carry guns in the classroom. This has been the case since 2012, when, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, Texas passed a law allowing for school employees to carry firearms on campus. But the recently proposed Texas H.B. 868, entitled the Teacher’s Protection Act, would go one step further and allow Texas teachers to use deadly force to kill a “threating” student. H.B. 868, proposed by Rep Dan Flynn (R), would provide educators with civil immunity and “a defense to prosecution” should they use force or deadly force to protect themselves, students of their school, or even school property. If enacted, H.B. 868, could lead to a variety of frightening consequences (i.e. sending the message that school property is more valuable than the lives of the school’s students). Given the biases and prejudices of the world we live in, the existence of “zero tolerance” policies in many schools across the country, combined with the chances of human error, this bill could prove deadly for students, especially students of color.
What are the different factors that could come together to prove deadly here?
(1) The school to prison-pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline refers to policies and practices that push schoolchildren—especially poor students of color—out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. Underfunded and underperforming schools who face budget cuts, the pressure of standardized testing, and public concern following several highly-publicized school shootings, have resorted to “zero-tolerance polices” that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of the circumstances. A 2014 study from the Department of Education observed that black students are expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white students. Black students account for 46% of students suspended more than one time. While black students only represent 16% of students enrolled in American public schools, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement, and 31% of students subjected to school-related arrests. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the ACLU, “Overly harsh disciplinary policies push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system. Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and drop-outs. All of these factors increase the likelihood of court involvement.”
(2) Zero Tolerance Policies
Students of color are disproportionately impacted by zero-tolerance policies, policies that dictate that schools expel any student who is perceived to cause trouble. The result of these policies is that these “troubled students”—disproportionately students of color (more on that below)—are sent straight into the criminal justice system—so that they are no longer a burden to the school. This happens every day in our country, even though many intermediary and more holistic steps could be taken to help these students.
(3) Implicit Bias
“Implicit bias” is defined as the mental process that causes us to have negative feelings and attitudes about people based off characteristic like, race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. As noted by Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, “In the general population, implicit racial bias often supports the stereotypical caricature of Black youth—especially males—as irresponsible, dishonest, and dangerous. In an ideal world, teachers and school administrators would be immune to these unconscious negative attitudes and predispositions about race. But, of course, they are not.”
(4) H.B. 868.
Back to H.B. 868. When you take this bill, allowing for the use of deadly force and leaving much to a teacher’s discretion, and combine it with zero tolerance policies and implicit bias, it is clear that it puts students of color at risk of punishment by physical violence or death. Instead of school-to-prison pipeline, you might see one that is school-to-grave.
To demonstrate the devastating, and potentially deadly, consequences that H.B. 868 would have if enacted, let’s consider the recent vandalism of a Texas high school. On the evening of September 6, 2014, Lake Travis High, in Lake Travis, Texas was vandalized. According to the local news, offensive words and pictures were spray-painted on the school’s entrance and windows were broken. At the time of the vandalism, the Lake Travis High administration believed the culprits to be “two young men and a young woman.”
Now, if H.B. 868 was the law on September 6, 2014, then one of Travis High’s teachers would legally be allowed to use reasonable force to defend the school from vandalism.
Picture this: a teacher is working late grading tests, when he looks out the window of his classroom. The teacher witnesses three teenagers (likely high school students) standing outside a school window. One of the teens throws something through the window and shatters it. If H.B. 868, were the law, it would allow that teacher to approach the teens and use reasonable force to protect the school’s property (i.e. to prevent the teens from breaking a school window).
Now picture this: the teacher decides to go outside to approach the teens. As the teacher gets closer, he notices that the teens are each carrying long, dark objects in their hands. The teacher is carrying a concealed firearm, as he is allowed to do under Texas law. But the teacher still feels threatened because he is outnumbered and the kids are holding dark objects.
As the teacher approaches, one of the teens holds up the dark object. The teacher then reaches for his firearm and fatally shoots the teen. As the shot teen lays on the ground, the other two teens run away. The teacher approaches the first kid, who is now lying on the ground, shot and dying. It is then that the teacher realizes that the dark object that the kid was holding was a can of spray paint. Would H.B. 868 grant the teacher a valid legal defense to shooting and killing a kid who was armed with a can of spray paint? The answer certainly appears to be “yes.”
What’s most ironic (or maybe not ironic at all), is that support for zero-tolerance policies largely stems from the passage of the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, a piece of federal legislation that mandated that schools expel any students found with firearms, or lose federal funding. The Gun Free Schools Act was designed to decrease violence in schools. But through the proliferation of zero-tolerance policies and the silent yet damning effects of unrecognized implicit bias, and now H.B. 868, Texas schoolchildren—particularly students of color—still face the spectre of gun violence. Only now it’s teachers carrying the guns. And those teachers may soon have a statutory legal defense and civil immunity from punishment or liability for killing a student.
This year, Equal Justice Initiative — a non-profit based in Montgomery, Alabama — put out an impressive report entitled “Slavery in America: The Montgomery Slave Trade.” Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a world-renowned organization that provides legal assistance to the poor, the incarcerated, the condemned, children prosecuted as adults in the criminal justice system, and communities marginalized by bias, discrimination, or poverty. We appreciate that EJI spent time putting together such a comprehensive and informative report on slavery in America and on reflecting on our past. While some might ask, “Why look back?,” we believe that in order to change our current state of mass incarceration and disenfranchisement, we must understand where our thoughts, beliefs, and laws come from, and how we developed as a nation. As EJI says in its report,
“Slavery in America traumatized and devastated millions of people. It created narratives about racial difference that still persist today. It also fostered bigotry and racial discrimination from which we have yet to fully recover. In learning more about slavery, we can learn more about ourselves, our past, and hopefully, our future. By strengthening our understanding of racial history, we can create a different, healthier discourse about race in America that can lead to new and more effective solutions.”
We cannot talk constructively about criminal justice reform, reentry, and progress toward social justice without first reflecting honestly on our nation’s past. There is no doubt that the United States, which incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation — with an increase in its jail and prison population from 200,000 to 2.3 million in the past 40 years — disproportionately incarcerates people of color. Nearly one out of every three American black men in their twenties is in jail or prison, on probation or parole, or otherwise under criminal justice control. Black men are eight times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.
So we encourage you to reflect on our past, no matter how much we might want to look away, and to think about how America’s Era of Slavery — which lasted more than 200 years and ended only 150 years ago with the Emancipation Proclamation — lives on today in the ways we criminalize, incarcerate, and punish, both inside and outside of prison walls.
For further reading, see EJI’s incredible interactive timeline, “A History of Racial Injustice: The Timeline.” Also check out EJI’s page on “Race and Poverty” and a great scholarly article written by Executive Director Bryan Stevenson on “Confronting Mass Imprisonment and Restoring Fairness to Collateral Review of Criminal Cases.”
–The R&R Team